At Old Town Hot Springs, we see hundreds of beginners and experts (and a lot of kids) scale our 37-foot climbing walls weekly but for those who use our gym daily for physical fitness, many overlook climbing as a cross-training activity that can be just as beneficial (or more) as weightlifting or taking a HIIT class. Rock climbing can offer an exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping activity while pushing mental agility. For those who do not have a fear of heights, it can also be a whole lot of fun.
Why should you add rock climbing into your training routine?
1. It’s a complete full-body strength workout. While climbing, you are targeting your core, arms, legs, glutes, and back, all at the same time. To be a solid rock climber, you can’t just be strong in one or two areas but will need full-body strength and flexibility to get you up. Your hands, fingers, and feet are areas that we seldom train, but they will get stronger over time by gripping tiny rocks and making micro-movements to keep your body on the wall. Your secondary, supporting, and stabilizing muscles will really benefit from the complex and dynamic movements you make while moving from rock to rock.
2. It’s not just a strength workout but combines stretching/mobility, cardio, and strength into one complete low-impact workout. Climbing can burn around 8-10 calories/minute, which is close to the activity of running or cycling. Plus, no two climbs are ever the same. Even if you climb the same route, you will be using different muscles, moving your body in new ways, and stretching differently.
3. Climbing is a unique sport as it requires mental strength in addition to physical strength and agility. Instead of some traditional training that allows you to mentally “check out” while engaging in repetitive movements, climbing will challenge you to always think a few moves ahead, while also battling an instinctual fear of falling. The full-body coordination and mental stamina required to climb can improve your working memory and some studies show that it can help improve depression.
How should you incorporate climbing into your training routine?
Climbing is a great activity for everyone since you can start off with easier routes and increase the difficulty as you gain strength, mobility, and comfort. If you have never climbed before, we recommend starting off at an indoor climbing wall where the route difficulty is listed, and the way up is straightforward. Climbing outdoors will provide the same physical challenge but with the bonus of route finding and gear maintenance, providing a little extra mental stimulation.
The first few times climbing you will find that your body will tap out quickly, especially if you climb a route that is above your ability. Your muscles will feel pumped, and you might not be able to perform as much climbing as you would like to get in a good workout. Choosing an easier route and climbing up and down the wall multiple times will help build strength and agility instead of overextending your muscles after one or two climbs. OTHS Climbing Coordinator, Carson Keller, likes to stay on the wall for 10 to 20 minutes at a time slowly moving around.
Once you start to see the benefits of climbing, we recommend incorporating it into your exercise routine once or twice a week. It will complement every other activity you are doing while also giving you a stimulating mental boost. Give it a try, your body will thank you!
Holly Harris is wellness director at Old Town Hot Springs.